So it’s New Year’s Eve, most of your friends have gone abroad visiting family or on exotic getaways, and you’re left in Fukuoka wondering how to make the most of the last night of the year? If you’re willing to throw away ideas of drinking and dancing the night away at a countdown party – few and far between in Fukuoka – you’ll start to see New Year’s Eve as a great opportunity to experience Japanese traditional culture first hand.
In many ways Oshogatsu, or Japanese New Year, is similar to a western Christmas – cards are sent to friends and family (nengajo), families come together, traditional meals are eaten (osechi-ryōri) and there’s a feeling of togetherness and well wishing for the new year.
One of the most important parts of Japanese new year, however, is hatsumode – the first trip to a shrine or temple. On December 31, some shrines hold two big ceremonies: oharaishiki, to purify sins and evils, and Joyasai, to give thanks for the previous year’s safety and to pray for peace in the coming year. Of course, you can attend these ceremonies with locals for free.
From the big and famous to the small and humble, there is a wide variety of shrines in Fukuoka. Fukuoka Now picked twelve of the best in Fukuoka City and beyond! Each has a distinguished history and is loved by locals. Don’t miss New Year-related events unique to each shrine!
Gokoku Shrine / 護国神社
Gokoku Shrine is said to have been built in the first year of the Meiji Period. With 3,000 trees surrounding it, the shrine is an oasis of calm, even though it’s located in the middle of a busy city. The torii, or gate, is made of cypress, stands 13 meters high and is the symbol of this shrine.
Address: 1-1-1 Ropponmatsu, Chuo-ku
Access: 5 min. walk from Ohori Park. In front of Gokoku Jinja-mae Nishitetsu Bus stop.
New Year Events: Jyoya-sai (New Year’s Eve festival) takes place from 14:00 on Dec. 31. Saitan-sai (New Year’s Day festival) starts from midnight on Jan. 1, and omamori and ofuda (good luck charms) are sold. You can also enter a fukumikuji (paper fortune) raffle for ¥500 per ticket; prizes include a PlayStation VITA and an Apple Watch. From 10:00 at the Nanakusa Festival held on Jan. 7, you can enjoy nanakusa-gayu, a rice porridge containing seven seasonal vegetables. It is eaten for good health in the New Year and costs just ¥100 per bowl. (*Only 300 bowls available. All proceeds will go towards providing aid for those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.)
Kego Shrine / 警固神社
This shrine was moved to its present location next to Kego Park in 1608. Though it stands amongst office buildings and department stores of Tenjin, it retains a calm atmosphere, making it popular with elderly visitors who come here to rest during the day. The big festival held here in autumn is one of the Tenjin’s most popular events of the year.
Address: 2-2-20 Tenjin, Chuo-ku
Access: Behind Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tenjin
New Year Events: Various Shinto rites including Oharai-sai (purification festival) on Dec. 31, Saitan-sai (New Year’s Day festival) on Jan.1 and Ganshi-sai (New Year event) on Jan. 3. You can draw Shogatsu mikuji (New Year fortunes) from midnight on Jan. 1 for ¥100 each, or the ¥1,000 mikuji includes entry into the raffle which boasts grand prizes, such as domestic trips and electronics. Locals gather at the Dondo-yaki Festival on Coming-of-Age Day (Seijin-no-hi) and burn shimenawa (holy ornaments made of rope) and other New Year’s decorations to pray for the health and safety of their families in the coming year. The festival starts around 10:00 with hot zenzai (hot, thick sweet soup made of red beans) available free of charge.
Kushida Shrine / 櫛田神社
Probably the best-known shrine in Hakata is “Kushida-san” and is loved by locals. It was first constructed in 757. The Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival, one of Hakata’s biggest festivals, begins here. A float from the Yamakasa festival is on display all year.
Hours: 4:00~22:00 (all day on Jan. 1~3)
Address: 1-41 Kamikawabatamachi, Hakata-ku
Access: 5 min. walk from Gion or Nakasukawabata subway stations.
New Year Events: Oharaishiki (purification rite) is held on Dec. 31 at 16:00, Joyasai (New Year’s Eve festival) at 23:00. Since the shrine is said to grant prayers related to prosperity in business and perpetual youth, more than 150,000 people visit between Jan. 1~3 every year. You can also get an omikuji (paper fortune) for ¥50; or the fukumikuji raffle, which is usually sponsored by Hakata’s biggest companies, for ¥500.
Sumiyoshi Shrine / 住吉神社
This shrine was built over 1,800 years ago and is said to be the first ever Sumiyoshi shrine in Japan. There are many historical spots inside the shrine including some which have designated cultural heritage status. Live concerts and other events are held on its Noh stage occasionally.
Address: 3-1-51 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku
Access: 10 min. walk from JR Hakata Sta. or 3 min. from Sumiyoshi Nishitestu Bus stop
New Year Events: An ooharai-shiki (grand purification ceremony) is held on Dec. 31 from 15:00 followed by Joyasai (New Year’s Eve festival). You can partake in the Shinto rites of the ooharai-shiki for free. Write down your name and age on a katashiro (paper shaped like a person), pat your body with the paper and blow on it – a ritual said to release your sins. Ebisu festival is held from Jan. 1 ~ 3, where you can purchase good luck charms, and draw a fukubiki (¥1,500 each) for the chance to win a trip to an onsen. On Jan. 7, the Tsuina-sai Festival takes place, during which an event called usokae is said to cancel out lies that we made unconsciously during the year. It starts at around 20:00.
Miyajidake Shrine / 宮地嶽神社
Constructed around 1,600 years ago in Fukutsu, this shrine is regarded as the greatest of Japan’s “Miyajidake” shrines. Dedicated to Empress Jingu, visitors to the shrine pray for all kinds of good luck. This shrine takes great pride in three items: its shimenawa (holy ornament made of rope), its Japanese drum, and its bell, all of which are regarded as the largest of their kind in Japan. The “golden legend” says that Miyajidake’s golden roof was created due to the discovery of golden artefacts near the shrine during construction.
Hours: all day (shops close at 19:00)
Address: 7-1, Miyajimotomachi, Fukutsu-shi, Fukuoka
Access: 5 min. by taxi (25 min. walk) from JR Fukuma Station. Buses available from Fukuma Station.
New Year Events: On Dec. 31 there are three ceremonies at Miyajidake: ooharai-shiki (grand purification ceremony), Chinka-sai (Fire Prevention Festival) and Joya-sai (New Year’s Eve festival). At midnight, when the clock ticks over to Jan. 1, the Gantan-sai (New Year’s Festival) begins with the beating of the drum and prayers for peace in Japan, and health, safety and thriving business for all.
Hakozaki Shrine / 筥崎宮
Hakozaki Shrine is known as one of the three major Hachiman shrines in Japan. It is said to have been founded in 923, during the Heian period. The guardian deity is the spirit of the Emperor Ojin, who was born in what is now Umi-machi, Fukuoka Prefecture. The shrine’s biggest annual event is Hojoya – held every September to herald the start of autumn in Hakata. Inside the shrine is a traditional Japanese garden with lovely flowers that bloom year-round.
Hours: 6:00~19:00 (all day on Jan. 1)
Address: 1-22-1, Hakozaki, Higashi-ku
Access: 3 min. by walk from Chikatetsu Hakozakigumae sta. (exit1)
8 min. by walk from JR Hakozaki Sta.
3 min. by walk from Nishitetsu Hakozaki bus stop
2 min. by walk from JR Hakozaki 1 chome bus stop
New Year Events: On Jan. 1 crowded street stalls will line the approach to the shrine for Sangen-sai (New Year’s Festival) – although not on the same scale as Hojoya, it’s still a bustling atmosphere. Then, on Jan. 3, the Tamaseseri festival sees two teams of loincloth-clad men brave the cold to scramble for possession of an 8 kg wooden ball. Victory for the Beach Team is said to ensure a plentiful catch of fish for the coming year, while a Land Team victory brings a bountiful harvest. For ¥300 get a hatomikuji, this raffle ticket gives you the chance to win prizes ranging from chopsticks to tickets for free travel to an onsen, Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki, and Korea.
Torikai Hachimangu / 鳥飼八幡宮
The shrine is worshipped as the tutelary god shrine in west Fukuoka, with three enshrined deities: Oujin Tenno (Emperor Oujin), Jingu Kougo (Empress Jingu) and Tamayori Hime (Princess Tamayori), god of matchmaking. People come to pray to the shrine’s “Musubi-no-kami” – God of connections, fortune, ties and matrimony – for good relations and luck in marriage, work, family, study, health and longevity.
Hours: 9:00~17:00 (Jan. 1: 0:00~19:00)
Address: 2-1-17 Imagawa, Chuo-ku
Access: 1 min. by Jigyo bus stop, 8 min. from Tojinmachi Sta.
New Year Events: The fukumikuji (paper fortunes) at Torikai Hachimangu are ¥500, and there are no blank tickets so you’re guaranteed a prize! Hello Kitty fans will be excited to see eto (Chinese astrology) mikuji featuring Kitty-chan, which are available for ¥500. Other lucky charms you can take home include hamaya – arrows with white feathers, believed to stop evil spirits entering your home, and fukukaki – a decorative rake with lucky charms attached.
Sakurai Shrine / 櫻井神社
Built 1632 in Itoshima City, Sakurai Shrine is listed as an Important Cultural Property of Fukuoka. The main shrine and grounds are located inland, and surrounded by forest. The symbolic torii gates in the ocean at Futamigaura are actually part of Sakurai Shrine, and every April ~ May the shrine holds an event in which 60 ujiko (shrine members) walk to the meotoiwa (couple rock) near the torii to change the 1-ton shimenawa (holy ornament made of rope). This peaceful shrine, surrounded by the sea and mountains, is a great spot to visit for those living in Itoshima.
Hours: all day
Address: 4227, Sakurai, Shima, Itoshima-shi
Access: by car
New Year Events: On Dec. 31, crowds start to gather from around 23:00 as locals come to pray for the new year. Check out their ¥300 Rilakkuma lottery, and buy a tombotama mikuji to enter the lucky prize draw. Make sure to show up on time, as the shrine closes after midnight. On Jan. 10 from 19:00, the shrine will hold a very unique event called mochioshi – where local men wearing traditional loincloths will play-fight over mochi to ward off the evil spirits.
Kōra Taisha / 高良大社
Founded in the fifth century, Kōra Taisha is a Shinto shrine in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture. Measuring in at 17m wide, 13m high and 32m long, the grand building of the main shrine is one of Kyushu’s largest buildings. Its kokerabuki roof is made of a layer of thin cyprus shingles, revealing the origins of the building. The shrine was one of the most important shrines in Chikugo Province. Its torii of 1654 and the honden (main hall), haiden (hall of worship), and heiden (offertory hall) of 1661 have been designated Important Cultural Properties.
Address: 1 Miimachi, Kurume City
Access: 15 min. from Kurumedaigakumae, Kyudai Line
New Year Events: From the afternoon of New Year’s Eve (12/31 15:00~) take part in the toshikoshi ooharai (year-end grand purification ceremony) for ¥1,000 (apply in advance). Write down your name and age on a katashiro (paper shaped like a person), pat your body with the paper and blow on it – this ritual is said to release your sins. Stay into the evening to see the beautiful night view of Chikugo from the shrine. On Jan. 1 Saitan-sai (New Year’s Day) celebrations begin at 7:00, and attendants pray for peace and security. From 10:00 on Jan. 3, burizouni (yellowtail soup) will be passed out to visitors by locals as part of burizoni settai. More Shinto rites are performed at the shrine throughout January.
Atago Shrine / 愛宕神社
Perched on the hill west of Muromigawa River, Atago Shrine is one of Japan’s three major shrines dedicated to the god of Atago, and Fukuoka City’s oldest shrine – it dates back to 72 A.D. The view from the top of the shrine is superb, with views of Momochi area, Fukuoka Tower and the highway to one side, Noko island to the other.
Hours: all day
Address: 2-7-1, Atago, Nishi-ku
Access: 10 min. walk from Muromi subway station, or get off the bus ‘Atago-shita’, which drops you off at the bottom of Atago hill.
New Year Events: Ooharai-shiki (grand purification ceremony) is held from 15:00~ on Dec. 31, and Joya-sai (New Year’s Eve festival) starts at 23:00. From 3:00 on Jan. 1, the Gantan-sai (New Year’s Festival) involves prayers for the peace of Japan and the world. The shrine will be busy for all of hatsumode period – between Dec. 1 and 3 around 500,000 people visit! Stalls sell mochi and luck charms, and you can purchase a daruma paper fortune for ¥500. There are also lots of lotteries, and the Atagokuji (¥1,500) has no blank sheets, so everyone wins a prize.
Dazaifu Tenmangu / 太宰府天満宮
Dazaifu Tenmangu is a shrine built over the grave of Michizane Sugawara, venerated by the Japanese throughout the country as the Tenman-Tenjin (the deified spirit of Michizane), or the God of literature and calligraphy. Around exam times, students flock to Dazaifu from near and far to wish for academic success, and visitors come to admire its 6,000 plum trees when they bloom in February. This famous shrine is very busy around the New Year’s period, attracting over two million visitors in three days. Many traditional Japanese crafts, sweets and chopstick shops line the approach to the shrine. Don’t miss your chance to try umegaemochi – this sweet is a specialty of Dazaifu! Over 7,000,000 international and domestic tourists flock to Dazaifu each year, making it one of Kyushu’s most important shrines.
Address: 4-7-1 Saifu, Dazaifu-city, Fukuoka
Access: 5min walk from Nishitetsu Dazaifu Station.
New Year Events: On Dec. 31, Ooharai-shiki (grand purification ceremony) is held from 16:00~ at Romon-mae. Write down your name and age on a katashiro (paper shaped like a person), pat your body with the paper and blow on it – a ritual said to release your sins. No reservation required and payment is on a donation basis. You can also receive a koun mikuji (lucky fortune slip) for ¥500. Dazaifu is a very popular shrine at New Year’s, and the crowds can stretch all the way back to the station.
Tochoji / 東長寺
According to the temple’s history, this ancient temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism was founded in 806 by Kobo Daishi on his return from Tang Dynasty China. It became the family temple of the Kuroda family as its cemetery began to hold their graves. It holds the “Fukuoka Daibutsu (Great Buddha)”, the largest wooden seated Buddha statue in Japan, completed in 1992 – measuring 10.8 m tall and weighing 30 tons. A national treasure Senjukannonbosatsu (thousand armed statue) and Rokkakudou, a hut-contained Buddhist sanctum, are also on the grounds of Tochoji. On the 28th of each month, the doors of the hexagonal building are opened and the six Buddhist statues inside can be viewed. You can see a range of activities here during the Setsubun festival in February every year, when large numbers of locals gather here.
Address: 2-4, Gokusho-machi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Access: Get off at Gion subway station, one minute walk from the station.
New Year Events: As the clock hits midnight on Dec. 31, visitors take turns ringing the temple bells in a ceremony known as joya-no-kanetsuki, to welcome the new year. As this event is very popular, only 200 participants will be able to ring the bell – numbered tickets are distributed in advance (enquire with the temple for more details). From Jan. 1~3, there’s Gomataki (Sacred Fire Rite for Invocation) at 12:00. Pray for happiness in this Shinto ritual by lighting a gomagi (special piece of wood) on fire. Tochoji also has omikuji (paper fortunes) for ¥50.
New Year’s Lucky Charms!
Shinto practice over the millennia has formed countless auspicious customs and items. Here are a few:
The writings on these individual fortunes are said to be the words of the gods! If the omikuji reads a fortune of bad luck, tie it to a pine tree on the shrine grounds. This custom originates from a pun on the words “pine” (松 matsu) and “wait” (待つ matsu), with the idea being that by tying the bad fortune to a pine tree, the bad luck will remain on the tree and not follow you home.
These arrows are believed to ward off demons and protect households in the New Year. The following year, hamaya are returned to the shrine they were purchased from and burned in a purificatory bonfire.
Wishes for the New Year are written onto these wooden plaques, which are then placed at the shrine. The word ema consists of the characters “picture” (絵) and “horse” (馬); horses were a symbolic vehicle of gods and were believed to carry their wishes and have them be heard by deities.
These charms are for good luck, health, road safety and so on. Different shrines have omamori for different purposes, depending on the deities enshrined there.
OSHOGATSU TIP! The Right Way to Pray at a Shrine
It looks easy, but there is proper protocol. Practice these steps and pray like a pro!
1. お清め Okiyome (Preparation)
Wash your hands at the temizuya (stone basin) and cup your hands to rinse your mouth. Wash your hands again, then head to the shrine.
2. 二拝 Nihai (Two bows)
Toss a coin for good luck, ring the bell and bow deeply twice.
3. 二拍手 Nihakushu (Two claps)
Clap your hands together twice, your right hand slightly lower so the fingers reach the top joints of your left hand. Eyes shut and head bowed, express a silent prayer of thanks to the gods for last year’s fortunes.
4. 一拝 Ippai (One bow)
Bow respectfully once more.
Originally written in Dec. 2015.
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NOTE: The information presented here was gathered and summarized by the Fukuoka Now staff. While we have done our best to check for accuracy, there might be errors and details may have changed. If you notice any errors or changes, please contact us. This report was originally written in Dec. 2015.